Michael McNeilley

he's filling a plastic basket
with used pull-tabs
as I roll up asking
what the hell did that cost you?
just $20 he says
pointing up at the poster
with the $500 prize
and he pulls open the little windows
quickly stripping them
with a practiced motion
floating the losers up like leaves
discarded by a fall wind
looking for 4 bells
and says hey a winner
what does 3 cherries pay?
and it's $5 and he puts it aside
pats it once and goes back
to opening the last of them
ending up with two 50-centers
and 3 lemons worth $2
which is just about
the price of lemons
and he takes the winners up
to trade for more
out of the big bright plastic hopper
and offers to buy some for me
but I tell him no thanks
I'm saving my luck for something
more important than money
and he gives a strange look
and picks up his winnings
in pull-tabs
the ones you win are
supposed to be the luckiest
he tells me
and he wins another dollar
good for a last two tries
but they come up empty
and he sits next to the
overflowing red plastic basket
of what is now trash
though any 10-year-old
would love to have it
and sips a short one
and lights a lucky strike
and I say shit man
you live in a rented trailer
by yourself drive that old beater
work at the same shit job I do
what the hell makes you
expect to get lucky?
but he says what he always says
my life makes me all the more sure
there's some luck out there
I just haven't found yet
and I'm not gonna stop looking
and we shake our heads
in different directions
finish our beers and head out
but on the way home
I stop for cigarettes and lotto tickets
because I like longer odds
and bigger prizes
and I know I can lose forever
just as he can lose forever
and what he always says is bullshit
but nobody's always